Tag Archives: orchestra

The Help (2011) – Thomas Newman

I saw The Help in theaters back in September ’11 and really enjoyed it, so I decided to read the book that it was based on earlier this summer, by Kathryn Stockett. I also purchased Thomas Newman’s score to the film to listen to as I read. In addition to being good reading music, it’s a really great film score.

Thomas Newman is the master of small, light, and fun film scores, and The Help, despite being a film about a serious subject, is all of these; though I’m a huge fan of John Williams, James Horner, and Michael Giacchino, who all use really big orchestral sounds in their scores, it’s refreshing to inject yourself with some Thomas Newman every once in a while. “Upside-Down Cake” and “Deviled Eggs” are light and playful, “Them Fools” and “Amen” are light and beautiful, and “Celia Digs” and “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)” are light and emotional.

Of course, you could argue that every single track on this album is emotionalEach track twangs on the heartstrings of the listener, which is no small feat for small orchestration. Tracks like “Jim Crow”, which features an aggressive acoustic guitar riff, blend in to the setting of the film, giving everything a Southern vibe that brings the message all too close to home.

I own several Thomas Newman scores, and none of them disappoint, including The Help. Newman’s score should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award, but, since it is less-theme based (though there are a few beautiful themes floating around throughout), it didn’t stand a chance against Williams, Shore, and Bource. That being said, if you’re at all a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this. Also, if you’re not a Thomas Newman fan, you should buy this.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

1. “Aibilene”      3:07
2. “Them Fools”      2:49
3. “Upside-Down Cake”      1:22
4. “Mississippi”      3:49
5. “Heart Palpitations”      1:43
6. “The Help”     2:18
7. “Jim Crow”      1:45
8. “Skeeter”      1:03
9. “Miss Hilly”      1:13
10. “Write That Down”      1:37
11. “Bottom Of The List”      3:23
12. “Deviled Eggs”      2:03
13. “First White Baby”      2:00
14. “Celia Digs”      2:06
15. “November 22”      1:11
16. “Not To Die”      1:28
17. “My Son”      2:50
18. “Trash On The Road”      1:37
19. “The Terrible Awful”      2:56
20. “Constantine”      4:08
21. “Gripping Testimonials”      1:32
22. “Sugar”      1:49
23. “Amen”      3:06
24. “Mile High Meringue”      2:00
25. “Ain’t You Tired (End Title)”      6:29

Total Length: app. 60 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

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The Hunger Games (2012) – James Newton Howard

When I first read the Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins, I was thinking to myself the whole time, “man, these books were written to be made into movies!” With that mindset, I was imagining a film score for the book while I was reading, and, though I’m not a composer, I was pretty satisfied with how it sounded in my head.

I haven’t listened to many film scores by James Newton Howard, but I was familiar enough with his work to be excited when he was announced as composer for The Hunger Games. I counted down the days until the score was released and bought it as soon as it was posted on iTunes. For the most part, I was pretty satisfied.

My favorite part about this score is how minimal it is most of the time. Panem is a post-apocalyptic country some time in the future, so why would you have a big, fully-stocked orchestra recording music for it? You wouldn’t, and Newton Howard does that perfectly. The main motif for District 12, as heard in the opening track, “The Hunger Games”, is uniquely soloistic and simple, making it profound when it is placed later in the score during the actual Hunger Games themselves in the track “We Could Go Home”.

However, there are a few moments when the full orchestra is appropriate, and Newton Howard scores these equally as beautifully, as heard in “Horn of Plenty” (the Panem national anthem, composed by the band Arcade Fire and orchestrated by Newton Howard) and “Searching for Peeta”, as well as in another track or two. Generally, the Capital is given these larger orchestrations, representing the prosperity found in the city. The contrast between the minimal themes for District 12 and the big moments for the Capital is striking, sort of embodying the class/quality of life shift between the two areas.

As much as I enjoy the majority of the score, I have one HUGE complaint: “Rue’s Farewell”. Is it pretty? Yeah, sure. Is it all that it could have been? NO! Where’s the five-note whistle that we heard in every single TV spot for the film? I had hoped that this track would be a memorial to the character based around that motif, but we don’t get that. Why, Newton Howard? WHY?!

Aside from that, and the fact that it’s WAY too short, James Newton Howard’s score for The Hunger Games is a score that works on multiple levels, despite the criticism I’ve heard from others who didn’t care for it. Give it a shot! It’s a great score for a great film.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

1. “The Hunger Games”   1:10

2. “Katniss Afoot”   1:49

3. “Reaping Day”   1:35

4. “The Train”   1:27

5. “Entering the Capitol”   1:28

6. “Preparing the Chariots”   1:05

7. “Horn of Plenty”   1:59

8. “Penthouse/Training”   3:36

9. “Learning the Skills”   1:41

10. “The Countdown”   1:58

11. “Booby Trap”   2:37

12. “Healing Katniss”   3:04

13. “Rue’s Farewell”   5:00

14. “We Could Go Home”   1:15

15. “Searching for Peeta”   1:27

16. “The Cave”   3:13

17. “Muttations”   4:45

18. “Tenuous Winners/Returning Home”   3:25

Total Length: app. 44 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad

P.S. – Read my review of this film here!


The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) – Harry Gregson-Williams

I’ll be completely honest with you all…I’m not a huge fan of Harry Gregson-Williams. His film scores just generally seem pretty lackluster to me. That being said, I’ve owned this score for a long time and never paid much attention to it, expecting myself to dislike it. But guess what? I really enjoyed it!

The first two tracks aren’t anything special, though “Evacuating London” has a wonderfully mellow piano solo, a nice groove with orchestral accompaniment, and a few cool small hints to the upcoming main theme (listen to “To Aslan’s Camp”). Gregson-Williams’ score really starts to get interesting around the third track, “The Wardrobe”, which first introduces us to Narnia. Everything is completely different now: this new world is represented with a score that is truly other-worldly, and I don’t mean in an extra-terrestrial way. The primary instruments switch from strings to flute-like and stringed instruments with unique timbres that really help you to envision the strangeness and wonder of this new place.

One of the things that HGW does really well in this score is integrate choral elements, especially in “A Narnia Lullaby”, “From Western Woods to Beaversdam”, and “Only the Beginning of the Adventure”. The voices fit in really well this idea of harmony between the creatures (discounting the White Witch and her gang, of course) and with a unity between the children and the other members of Aslan’s forces.

I do have a few issues with this score. Though “The White Witch” is malicious enough, I think that HGW could have better embodied the cold nature of the witch. For example, the usage of eerie high strings and using the dissonance in a different way could have really made it better, in my opinion. Also, several of the themes, though awesome alone, were WAY overused, like the melody heard in “Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus”. This line of music is incredibly beautiful, but it’s repeated forever and ever (amen) throughout the entirety of the track’s four minutes, and this isn’t the only melody that repeats like this; the main theme heard in “To Aslan’s Camp” is used over and over again throughout the entire score, albeit sometimes with different instrumentation or in a different mode or rhythm.

And I have to point it out: while listening, I heard what I swear was the main theme from Gregson-Williams’ later score, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, but I can’t for the life of me find it at the moment…you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Despite its faults, Harry Gregson-Williams’ to this first installment in the Chronicles of Narnia film series is pretty excellent…a pleasant surprise to me, since I wanted so badly to dislike it. Instead, tracks like the mysterious “The Wardrobe”, “To Aslan’s Camp”, and “The Battle” left me wishing that the soundtrack wasn’t so short. The short length doesn’t take away from the fantasy presented in this score, though, so check it out!

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

  1. “The Blitz, 1940” – 2:32
  2. “Evacuating London” – 3:38
  3. “The Wardrobe” – 2:54
  4. “Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus” – 4:10
  5. “A Narnia Lullaby” – 1:12
  6. “The White Witch” – 5:30
  7. “From Western Woods to Beaversdam” – 3:34
  8. “Father Christmas” – 3:20
  9. “To Aslan’s Camp” – 3:12
  10. “Knighting Peter” – 3:48
  11. “The Stone Table” – 8:06
  12. “The Battle” – 7:08
  13. “Only the Beginning of the Adventure” – 5:32
  14. “Can’t Take It In” (Imogen Heap) – 4:42
  15. “Wunderkind” (Alanis Morissette) – 5:19
  16. “Winter Light” (Tim Finn) – 4:13
  17. “Where” (Lisbeth Scott) – 1:54

Total Length – app. 71 min.

iTunes Album Link

-Chad